Daggerfall, a Frightened Boy’s Story

Did you know someone was re-making Daggerfall, the second Elder Scrolls game, in the Unity engine? No? So you probably didn’t also know it’s hit a major milestone. I just found out. That’s super-cool. To celebrate that, I thought I’d tell you my goofy story with the game, back in high school. It’s weird and, like most of my gaming stories, ends with me never finishing it.

The game, I mean. Obviously I’ll finish the story.

So one of my dad’s friends had to move, and he asked if I would want some games and books. This was my first encounter with a feeling I now know well: “please, I’m moving, take this so I don’t have to pack it. Help.” I accepted. I had no idea what I was in for. I ended up with some good fantasy novels and some historically significant games, such as Anvil of Dawn and several of the old gold-box D&D games. I couldn’t make any sense of Anvil, though I think I  could now if I knew where the dang thing was. The D&D games seemed cool, but they caused the DOS sound chip in my 486 to emit a constant, ear-splitting shriek, so I didn’t really play those much.

But Daggerfall. Oh man. I never encountered any of the game-breaking bugs, but apparently one of the most famous is that you could fall through the floor seconds into the game and never, no matter how many files you started, get past that point.

The game had an interesting character building system. One of a few options, actually. You could play a kind of choose-your-own-adventure backstory thing, with multiple choice questions about several situations. I wish more things did that. Though I learned pretty quickly how to game the system.

So here’s a famous moment in the game. Look at this skeleton asshole.


In the first dungeon, you fight the prerequisite rats and such. Then you get to the exit. There you’ll find a big, tall set of stairs with this jackass hanging out. If you’re not MLG pro enough at this thing yet — say, you’re a teenager with a terrible internet connection in the 1990s, like I was — this guy will fuck up your Sunday. The typical solutions to this asshole, who’s blocking your way, is to either kite him around with whatever weapon you have (see image), run past him, or use a weapon that’s good against him. That means silver or better — and, hopefully, blunt rather than sharp. But I could never find anything like that in the damned dungeon. And I had never played an open world game before, so I didn’t know you could run past shitheads.

So I died. And I died. And, eventually, I found this one option in the narrative character creator… I believe the situation is that you’re hanging out in the forest, because it’s cool there, I guess, there are arcade machines. A merchant trundles by and gets attacked by something. You can choose to help him, and if you do he’ll give you a gift. I can’t remember if you get input about the type of gift. But, one way or another, it’s possible to get an ebony dagger from the guy. And ebony is better than silver.

You see where this is going, I guess. I can’t remember why, exactly, I had to keep remaking characters, but every time, I got the dagger. Because the dagger will fuck this skeleton guy’s shit up hardcore. So I would kind of kite him around, stabbing him with this little black dagger, and escape, finally, into the gloriously free air.

Then I would use the map to travel to the capital. You’d get random encounters out of fast travel then, where you’d spawn into an area with a monster or something and you could run or fight. You’d have to run far enough away to fast travel again, though, or make the whole trip on foot. I think I tried that the first time I got out of the dungeon, and when I couldn’t make it in ten minutes I got confused (first open world game, remember — and despite how repetitive it is, Daggerfall still has one of the biggest overworld maps). I think once a werewolf jumped me.

OK, so that’s the general experience. Here are a few of the goofy things I did.


I tried to find a picture of the screen you went into when you bought stuff, but I couldn’t. So have a picture of the merchant sprite instead.


Playing a rogue, of sorts, I naturally wanted to steal some shit from this guy when I got to the capital. I didn’t have any money, after all.

Also, you could buy a horse and cart in this game. They solved (or “solved”) the over encumbrance problem by giving you a big cart that you parked at the entrance to a dungeon. You could pack it full of stuff and then when you got back to town it was available to sell like anything on your person. Though maybe you had to ferry the stuff out, I’m not sure.

So that sounds good! I certainly wish more games had something like that nowadays.

Sooooo I tried to steal one.

This is as stupid as you are imagining. See, again, I was a teenager and hadn’t played many RPGs yet. All the RPGs I had played were JRPGs, which have different concepts about property and carrying things around. So, when I was in this screen, looking at abstract representations of goods, it never clicked with me that items have their own weight and size attributes. But they did. So when I tried to steal a fucking CART AND HORSE, the game calculated my sneak skill (pretty bad), the merchant’s ability to see me (pretty good, since I hadn’t hidden myself at all), and the size of the item I was trying to stuff down my pants (BIGGER THAN ME BY ABOUT FOUR TIMES OR MORE).

So I failed.


I joined the Fighter’s Guild just to have a place to sleep. They didn’t charge you if you were a member. But they closed at like ten pm, which was annoying. However, I think the inns closed their doors even earlier, so OK, I’ll take what I can get. I spent a lot of time in the little two story tower the Fighter’s Guide had in the city. It was one of the only landmarks I could identify. I ranged out in larger circles from it, day to day. I would come in at night, after a hard day’s wandering the countryside, stabbing rats, and run headlong into the walls for an hour or so.

Yes, that’s what I said. Climbing was a skill you could train (and also it existed, unlike in more modern Elder Scrolls games, where you have to hope you find the one way the developers meant you to go, or else spend two hours “walking” up cliff faces). Attempting to do something would build your skill a little, though successes were better, of course. So trying to climb the  totally vertical wall did train climbing. So, basically, before I slept and all my stuff reset every night, I would slam into the wall to improve my climbing.


The Guild tower figures into another story, and it’s probably the best one. See, I wasn’t totally clear about what the hell I was supposed to be doing. I knew that I had to find the king’s killer, and that was about it. So eventually I sucked it up and went to the castle, where no one would tell me anything fucking useful. I wandered around that building for a long time, looking for letters or secret passages or something. I believe I did find a letter, so I had a new destination in mind at least.

But, see, here’s something I didn’t know. The king is haunting the city. As in, after a certain time of night he’s just, you know, around, and he will murder your ass.

So I left the castle in despair, confused and hoping I would make it back to the tiny tower before curfew. And then the damage started. From nowhere, I took damage. I freaked out. I flailed around and finally saw the horrible ghost behind me, clawing at me. 

This was less than ideal. So I began to run. I got lost. I shrieked and ran up streets and down streets. 

I found the Fighter’s Guild. Hurray! Except it was 9:59. Shit. Ever fucking shit. 

I slammed into the door and spammed the open button. It worked. The clock read 10:00 but I managed to get in. I was… Less than healthy. 


So if you every see me saying I miss the older Elder Scrolls games, this is what I mean. Mystery leads to emergent gameplay in a way that random generation or big maps don’t, necessarily. I’ll always have these goofy stories. And that means I’ll always feel these feelings about the game. 


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